FULTON, Ill. — Around 200 foreign exchange students have been placed in homes in Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin thanks to Regional Director for Academic Year USA Global Youth Exchange Mimya Andersen of Thomson, Ill.
Andersen, who is orignally from the Philippines, has been working for Ayusa for 20 years and has hosted 20 students herself.
“Once you host a student, it’s such a great experience you want to host again,” Andersen said.
Working with people from different cultures has always been a part of her life. Prior to working with the students, she worked at a Vietnamese Refuge Camp teaching English.
“My life is not extraordinary, but I have been able to help many students and people from other cultures learn about American culture,” Andersen said.
She has placed students from Brazil, Finland, the Netherlands, Germany, Japan, Korea, China and many other countries in schools in the Gateway area, including Clinton High School, Camanche High School, Fulton High School and Prince of Peace. The students usually stay for a semester or a year and many choose to come back for additional years, although the number of exchange students at local schools has declined significantly over the years.
On average in previous years, Andersen placed 25 to 30 students. This year she only placed seven students in the area. For the first time, Clinton High School didn’t take an exchange student this year, but there is hope that the school will take students next year, according to Andersen.
Overall, schools in the area and Iowa in particular have been very open to having exchange students, according to Andersen.
“Iowa has been very generous,” Andersen said. “This place is being put on the map for hosting so many students from so many different countries.”
As the school year is coming to a close soon, several exchange students and host families are able to reflect on their experiences with the program. Clinton High School teacher Jennifer Hansen says hosting exchange student Judy Hsu from Taiwan changed their family dynamics in a wonderful and positive way.
“Judy has brought to our family a new look on life from an unfamiliar culture that is truly different than we are used to in the USA,” Hansen said. “We have learned about their holidays and have had celebrations that are important to her culture and she has experienced all of our holidays and events that make our culture unique. I strongly encourage families to experience sharing your home with a foreign exchange student, because it is a win-win situation for all involved.”
Likewise, Hsu, who has been attending Prince of Peace, says she has learned a lot about American culture and in turn has taught her host family many things as well.
“I have learned a lot of from being an Ayusa exchange student,” Hsu said. “Not only my language skills have improved, but this has also changed my global perspective. Now I know that there are people with different cultures and life on the opposite side of the earth and we both can learn a lot from each other.”
Joanne Mulholland, also a teacher at Clinton schools, says hosting student Niini Halonen from Finland was a new and exciting experience for her family.
“The most exciting part has been watching our student try new things and go through new experiences,” Mulholland said. “She has enjoyed her time at Prince of Peace making new friends, attending dances, participating in sports, and learning about the American culture. She has become such a part of our family that it will be difficult to watch her leave at the end of this experience.”
Halonen says the exchange can be challenging at times, but everything went well for her.
“I’ve learned a lot about the American culture and all the differences compared to my own home country,” Halonen said. “I think that right now I can’t really see everything that I’ve learned during this time yet but when I go back home then I’ll see how much I’ve learned and grown up here in the U.S. as a person.”
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